Sunday, January 01, 2006

Hunley officials want state to help recover other artifacts

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The State
October 09, 2005

CHARLESTON, S.C. - Members of the Hunley Commission want workers helping tear down bridges over the Cooper River to lend their cranes to saving artifacts from three Civil War ships that were sunk by Confederates.

The artifacts, including a cannon discovered decades ago, could be helpful not just to display with the Hunley, but also to help figure out the best way to preserve the Confederate submarine.

"It's really the chance of a lifetime to get these pieces," said Sen. Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston and chairman of the Hunley Commission. "This cannon has been in the water about the same length of time as the Hunley. If it could be a guinea pig for our new treatment, that would be great."

The three ships, named the Charleston, Chicora and Palmetto State, kept Union soldiers from taking over the city. But on Feb. 18, 1865, they were sunk to keep them from falling into the hands of the Yankees.

Hunley Commission members say all that's needed to retrieve the objects is a crane and there are plenty of them in the Cooper River as workers dismantle the John Grace Memorial Bridge opened in 1929 and the Silas Pearman Bridge opened in 1966.

The location of several artifacts is known. The cannon from the Palmetto State may have been found by workers building the Grace bridge. Two more pieces of the boxy metal ships were found during a Charleston Harbor dredging project more than five years ago. They were sunk back in the mud when the dredging company didn't give archaeologists time to properly recover them.

The Transportation Department is willing to listen to ideas about how to use the cranes demolishing the bridges to save the artifacts, said Charles Dwyer, project manager in charge of tearing down the bridges.

"We'd sit down with them and see what we could do," Dwyer said. "It would probably depend on what was involved.

If the items can be removed, they could be displayed with the Hunley, the first sub in history to sink an enemy warship. They also could help make sure the Hunley is preserved.

Hunley scientists are working with Clemson University materials experts on how to save the metal on the sub's hull. But their techniques haven't been tested on iron more than a century old.

So instead of making the Hunley a guinea pig, the methods could be tested on the iron from the ships instead.


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